[xmca] Sawchuk and Stetsenko article

From: Worthen, Helena Harlow <hworthen who-is-at illinois.edu>
Date: Fri Nov 28 2008 - 17:03:46 PST

Hello -- So here's my first response to Peter and Anna's article.

This article explains what two traditions of sociology try to do, where CHAT stopped when the revolutionary potential of the first generation chilled under Stalin, and how re-introducing these three to each other might revive and fulfill that potential.

I think that Peter and Anna mean us to take that first generation of CHAT, particularly in its revolutionary, transformative, critical form, to be what they call "non-canonical activity theory." Non-canonical activity theory is CHAT in the form that undertook "radical reconceptualization of all spheres of human development" (342) and was driven, both theoretically and (because of contemporary social necessity) by a vision of ongoing, creative, collaborative historical change.

However, it's not clear to me why CHAT would turn out to be the main beneficiary of an engagement between CHAT and sociology. I can see that CHAT, depending on what it's being used for, often steps away from its revolutionary roots and becomes a technique for sorting out a puzzle, but even when that happens it is essentially dynamic and dialectical and available, if not actually employed, to reveal contradictions and track change. Peter and Anna DO say, however, that if you're using CHAT, it's non-canonical CHAT that is most likely to be capable of absorbing the insights and resources of sociology (357). Among these insights would be "social action" oriented theories of conduct, ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, theories of enactment, socially constructed meaning, norms/rules/conventions and structuration. I am just making this list by scanning the two sections in Peter and Anna's article about the two traditions of sociology that they describe.

So, what would a problem look like that, if you're working with CHAT, could be worked with more effectively if you could pull in these concepts from sociology? Would they fit in neatly, or would there be rough edges? What would they contribute to the solution of a specific problem? What are the gaps in CHAT that in practice these concepts would bridge?

I am pretty sure that both Peter and Anna have actual examples of problems to which they have brought resources from sociology and probably from other disciplines as well. Peter's 2003 book (in the list of references) "Adult Learning and Technology..." is probably an instance.

On the other hand, sociology, it seems to me, would definitely benefit from a good dose of CHAT. You need the dynamism of CHAT to get social facts moving on the three legs that Peter and Anna name: material production, subjectivity (the view from the self), and intersubjective exchange. Although I've read limited amounts of sociology, I always feel as if I'm reading an autopsy report, not something that's describing a wave, big or small, in the river of history.

Could you make the argument the other way -- to sociologists, suggesting that they need CHAT? What would happen? I'll bet the answer would vary depending on who you're talking with, and where....


Helena Worthen, Clinical Associate Professor
Labor Education Program, School of Labor & Employment Relations
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
504 E. Armory
Champaign, IL 61820
Phone: 217-244-4095

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Received on Fri Nov 28 17:04:24 2008

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